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Call for Submissions: Mehfil

Seeking work in the spirit of play and performance from queer South Asian artists

The Margins seeks work for a new notebook featuring queer artists from the South Asian subcontinent and the South Asian diaspora on the theme of Mehfil: An Evening of Entertainment and Enchantment, to be published online and in print in Summer 2023. Margins fellow Rajat Singh will guest edit this notebook as part of the I Want Sky series. Edited by Bazeed, the I Want Sky series seeks to make queer existence tangible and add to the queer archive. The first issue honored Sarah Hegazy’s one irreplaceable life and the lives of all LGBTQ+ Arabs and people of the SWANA region and its diaspora; it was published by AAWW’s The Margins and Mizna online and in print.

Although the traditional mehfil—in which elite male audiences in parts of South Asia enjoyed music, dance, and poetry, often performed by courtesans—has all but vanished, the themes expressed there still touch us: the beauty of a beloved, the unbearability of life, the anguish of separation, the joy of being reunited with the one we’ve lost. A space of possibility, imagination, and freedom, the mehfil is a symbol for another world as much as it recognizes its inextricability from the concerns of this one.

By drawing on and subverting this artistic archive, the notebook Mehfil seeks to ground queer South Asian experiences in time as well as celebrate the changing face of a community—across categories of caste and class, language and religion, gender, and genre.

We are not looking for academic pieces heavy on theory or research, work full of hard-to-define words like “capitalist,” “heteronormative,” or “patriarchical,” or writing that’s abstract and inaccessible.

For this new notebook, we are looking for poetry, short stories, audio, video, photography, translation, art criticism, artist interviews, essays, and the daring, genre-blurring work that falls outside those categories.

If today’s mehfil is a party, show us how bodies, eyes, and voices find one another there. If it’s a concert, give us languages for our ineffable longings. If it’s a bedroom, illuminate how desire isn’t just leaving home but also returning to it, how “ecstasy” can mean both “standing outside oneself” and “crossing borders.” If it’s a protest, teach us how tenuous our freedoms are, how fiction can resist the state. If it’s a dream, say why you chose to forget it. If it’s a work of art, let us eavesdrop on a conversation with our queer ancestors. Give us your poignant eulogies, your unsent letters, your impassioned manifestos. Writers from nontraditional paths, we welcome the work you’ve been too afraid to write. 

We pay all writers and translators. Please refer to our rate sheet for details.

Submissions are open until February 15, 2023. To read submission guidelines and submit to Mehfil, visit our Submittable page.